SEN. Miriam Santiago has sought termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the Philippines and the United States, saying it has had unfavorable effect on the country’s sovereignty, environment and human-rights record.
In filing Senate Joint Resolution 11 (SJR11), Santiago said aside from the inequity of the VFA on the jurisdiction and custody over US servicemen who commit crimes in the country, the acts committed by US troops are contrary to the Constitution and human rights, norms and standards concerning protection of environment.
The joint resolution was co-authored by Akbayan party-list Rep. Walden Bello.
Santiago, in her resolution, directed Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario to serve the notice of termination of the VFA to the US.
The senator cited the case of Jeffrey “Jennifer” Laude, who was allegedly killed by US Marine Private First Class Scott Pemberton; the dumping of hazardous waste in the waters of Subic Bay by Glen Defense Marine Asia, a contractor of the US Navy, in 2012; and the damaging of a portion of the Tubbataha Reef in 2013 by the USS Guardian.
“[These] cases show that the VFA is used to shield transgressions made by the US military on Philippine soil, seriously infringing on the country’s ability to prosecute these criminal acts,” Santiago noted.
She dismissed claims that the country needs the VFA as protection from potential invaders especially China that have been claiming some islands, islets and shoals in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
“The VFA does not imply that the US will come to our aid in case of a firefight with China over the West Philippine Sea. On the contrary, in 2013, then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the US would be neutral,” the senator pointed out.
Bello agreed with Santiago.
“Every effort of Jennifer’s family to achieve justice is thwarted by the VFA. The only way to turn things around is by finally leaving United States authorities with nothing to shield their irresponsible military from the full force of Philippine laws by terminating the VFA,” he said.
“If the US chooses to withdraw its troops owing to the absence of the VFA, so be it.
The US has anyway made it clear they do not include our territories in the West Philippine Sea as areas they will defend. I am confident that we can bring the resolution to second reading at the Congress plenary in a very short time,” Bello added.
But Sen. Francis Escudero said the decision to enter into or terminate an agreement rests with the executive department.
He added that the joint resolution filed by Santiago can only express the stand of the Senate on the treaty and urged the government to consider its termination.
Escudero is one of the 14 senators who want a review of the 15-year-old agreement with the US that would eventually lead to amending it.
The senator particularly wants to review provisions concerning criminal jurisdiction over US servicemen who commit crimes in the Philippines.
WITH LLANESCA PANTI